Guilt is always waiting. When I let down my guard or my mind wanders, there it is. Something I did wrong. Something I should be doing right now.
I recently saw a study reporting that men who are married with children are more socially stable and tend to earn higher incomes than comparable single men. I bet it’s because of guilt.
Stability is good. Guilt? Not good. For all that it motivates me to work hard to feed my family (I have five growing children), guilt saps the joy from my life. When I’m working, I’m guilty that I’m not spending time with my kids (let alone my wife). When I’m reading to one child, I could be earning overtime, or doing the dishes, or playing with a different child. There’s not enough of me to go around.
There’s also guilt about results. My kids are always quicker to imitate my worst traits than my best advice. How much therapy will they need because of my shortcomings? And then there’s guilt about guilt. Am I feeling guilty about them for their own sakes, or because I will look bad if they grow up into criminals?
Recently, I’ve been lingering over Psalm 119. It doesn’t start out well for someone prone to guilt. “Happy are those whose lives are faultless …” (v. 1). Well, I guess that explains things, now, doesn’t it? So much for comfort from the Scriptures!
Of course, guilt is not the purpose of this great Psalm written in praise of God’s law—nor any other passage in the Bible. The psalmist is telling me something deeply true: there is a way that leads to happiness, but I need help to walk it. Every day I need God to “Open my eyes, so that I may see the wonderful truths in your law” (18).
I need help understanding God’s laws (27). Most of the time, I need to obey God’s commands before I understand them (32). Sometimes, I need God to explain them so that I can obey them (34). All the time, I need God to increase my desire for his laws (36).
The section I am chewing on now is verses 41–48: “Show me how much you love me, LORD,” I try to pray with the Psalmist (41). I think that’s a key to the chapter—and the key to a life of obedience. It is confidence in God’s love that leads to “trust in your word” (42). Once we make the law a part of ourselves, we “live in perfect freedom” (45), and are able to “announce your commands to kings” (46)—and to children—without being ashamed.
I know, in my better moments, that Christ frees me from guilt. More than that, he frees me for a purpose. Jesus explains in John 15:1–11: As I am “united to” him and “remain in” his love for me, I am required to bear fruit, to obey God. But it’s my remaining in Christ—“abiding,” in some translations—that makes my obedience possible.
Jesus promises that this trusting obedience will make me “completely happy” (11). Abiding in Jesus’ love is what gives me a part in the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34: God will write his law on my heart and, in the end, let me “find pleasure in obeying” (Psalm 119:47-48).
Such confidence is also a key to parenting. My confidence in God’s love enables me to trust him with my children. And as I live out of that confidence, my children’s confidence in my love for them will help them flourish—despite my shortcomings.
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